How Effective Feedback Supports a Whole Child Perspective

Collaboration Montage

Students take ownership of their learning when they're given a voice and choice. Lauren Smith, instructional coach at Noblesville Schools in Indiana, highlights why it's important to tailor feedback to meet the social and emotional needs of each student.


s instructional coaches, our primary goal is to equip those we serve in our school community with resources, strategies, and instructional practices that support continuous growth. In turn, we can help them move beyond their personal standard of "best teaching" to impact student learning even more. While this is great, how often do we facilitate and design learning experiences that are built on a "whole child" perspective, or one that considers the social and emotional needs of a learner?

"Perspective: the capacity to view things in their true relations or relative importance." Merriam-Webster

While we often have many different styles or methods of coaching, everyone has blind spots and often when a colleague is focused on the impact of student learning, they may be blinded by a focus simply on academics.

It's vital for an instructional coach to identify when a colleague doesn't consider the needs of the whole child. To support them we must guide them to consider academics as only one piece of the whole child perspective and make sure social and emotional components are considered too. This is done through powerful feedback.

The Power of Feedback

According to John Hattie's Visible Learning, feedback has a significant impact on student achievement—an impact he measures as having an "effect size of 0.7." The "effect size" is used to measure the impact of two contrasting groups, situations, or anything, to see which one is more productive and in this case, when compared to other ways of improving student outcomes, high-quality feedback is near the top of the list. We can achieve this level of feedback when we consider the social and emotional learning necessary to impact and reach our intended learning outcomes.

Let's go over some considerations to support colleagues with feedback, and suggestions for the social and emotional support of learners.

Relationships are a Foundation for Feedback

Relationships are at the heart of our teaching. If we desire to see learners succeed, then relationships must be the #1 priority in our classrooms. Students need to feel as if they matter to adults and peers and one way to support this is through continued opportunities that grow and foster collaboration, personal connections, student ownership, and connections between home and school. This builds healthy social and emotional environments where students feel welcomed in a community that's established with them, rather than done to them.

Soft starts—those that start and end a learner's day in a positive manner—contribute to their overall emotional and social well-being as well. Greetings at the door, community circles, morning meetings, and intentional neuroscience mindfulness activities that ease into (or exit out of) a classroom community can all help to achieve this.

From room arrangement to flexible seating, it matters when you consider the whole child perspective. Multiple types of furniture—such as resistance bands tied on desks, exercise balls, and textured seat discs—provide increased opportunity to meet various needs of the learner within a classroom community.

Identity and Resilience

Every learner has an inner identity of how they view themselves but it often is not what we see on the outside. When we help learners identify and embrace their true identity, we support a sense of belonging. Not only are we striving to build learning identities, we also foster the personal identities of the child through social and emotional support.

Learners encounter multiple periods of change, hardships, and even failure within their school years. However, how they are taught to adapt to these situations contributes largely to the amount of their developed resilience. We as educators need to support learners with how they persevere and continue to flourish. Carol Dweck's approach to a growth mindset continues to influence how a learner can grow and thrive from failures to support social and emotional needs! It proves impactful for opening one's mind to new opportunities and how to grow from failed endeavors.

Access for All

Learning is a fluid process that's ever-evolving. If our colleagues are designers of their learning, then as coaches, we need to ensure learning experiences are equitable and designed to meet the needs of the whole child. If the moves that take place within a classroom don't meet the learner on an academic, social, and emotional level, then we aren't providing access for all learners.

Meeting a learner's social and emotional needs means we must engage multiple learning styles. When students have a voice and choice within their learning process it creates ownership and high levels of engagement. If we seek student agency to thrive within a classroom, then we must consider how they, as a learner, will best succeed with the experiences we provide. Our learning experiences are not designed to be a one-size-fits-all approach, so when we think intentionally about the amount of voice and choice within a classroom strengthens support for the whole child.

Final Note

When we hear the term "instructional coach," we often think "a coach of instruction." In order to be successful with intended instructional outcomes, we must continue to be mindful of the academic, social, and emotional needs of the learner. When we don't consider the whole child, not only are we doing a disservice to our colleagues but, more importantly, we're doing a disservice to our learners.

Feedback offered to our colleagues that is centered on the whole child perspective drives collective actions with multiple pathways to make an impact on student learning with a heart for the learner at our core.

About our Guest Blogger

Lauren Smith is in her fifth year as an instructional coach at Noblesville Schools in Indiana. Aside from coaching, Lauren has over fourteen years of teaching experience and is passionate about supporting colleagues and students in opportunities for continuous learning and growth.

Outside of school, Lauren has a joy for writing, is an active member of the Collaborate.Lead.Coach community, and serves as a co-moderator for the #educoach and #INCLC Twitter chats. She welcomes the opportunity to connect and collaborate with others across the country!

Be sure to follow Lauren on Twitter @lsmith0917!

Continue reading more great posts!